Importance of Sadhu Sanga
When one is successful in practicing all the six divisions of saranagati, also known as prappati or sraddha, one is finally eligible to embark on the journey back to Godhead. Sraddha is the beginning of one’s true good fortune and it is this faith in the Lord that leads one to the next stages of bhakti. The progressive spiritual development of a sadhaka from sraddha to prema has been described by Srila Rupa Goswami in his Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu as follows:
ādau śraddhā tataḥ sādhu-
saṅgo ‘tha bhajana-kriyā
tato ‘nartha-nivṛttiḥ syāt
tato niṣṭhā rucis tataḥ
athāsaktis tato bhāvas
sādhakānām ayaṁ premṇaḥ
prādurbhāve bhavet kramaḥ
In the beginning there must be faith. Then one becomes interested in associating with pure devotees. Thereafter one is initiated by the spiritual master and executes the regulative principles under his orders. Thus one is freed from all unwanted habits and becomes firmly fixed in devotional service. Thereafter, one develops taste and attachment. This is the way of sādhana-bhakti, the execution of devotional service according to the regulative principles. Gradually emotions intensify, and finally there is an awakening of love. This is the gradual development of love of Godhead for the devotee interested in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Strong faith in the Lord and his holy names and following the divisions of saranagati bestows upon one the opportunity to associate with pure devotees of the Lord. It is impossible for a person to make progress on the path of bhakti without the mercy and the association of the unalloyed devotees of Sri Krsna. In the Caitanya-caritamrita it has been stated:
sadhu-sanga, sadhu-sanga — sarva-sastre kaya
lava-matra sadhu-sange sarva-siddhi haya
The verdict of all revealed scriptures is that by even a moment’s association with a pure devotee, one can attain all success.
Although bhakti is naturally present within each and every living entity, for that is our true constitutional position, yet due to the covering of maya and the previous sinful impressions from millions of births, it is hidden and is in a dormant state. Therefore, in order to rekindle our love for Sri Syamasundara, we need to be in the association of Vaisnavas whose hearts are overflowing with krsna-prema and faithfully listen to their instructions. When associating with them and serving them, we are sure to hear nectarean topics concerning bhakti emanating from their lotus mouths and those ambrosial words, upon entering into our hearts from the ears, will cleanse all the accumulated dirt from numerous lives. Not only will we get purified from all our undesirable contamination, but their mercy will awaken in us a deep desire to serve the Lord and go back home back to Godhead. It is without doubt that our association shapes us into what we are; therefore one should always be with exalted Vaishnavas and take all the opportunities to serve their lotus feet.
Serving the Vaisnavas and considering oneself to be their menial servitor also highly pleases the Lord and attracts his causeless mercy to descend upon us. The following beautiful statement, “gopī-bhartuḥ pada-kamalayor dāsa-dāsānudāsaḥ – I identify Myself only as the servant of the servant of the servant of the lotus feet of Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the maintainer of the gopīs.” also depicts the importance of thinking oneself to be a servant of the devotees.
Therefore, one who is determined and eager to make advancement on the path of bhakti should nicely follow the divisions of saranagati and always pray to be blessed with the association of exalted Vaisnavas, who are extremely dear to the Lord and are actually the representatives of the Lord in this world. One should always eagerly serve the devotees of the Lord and “give” them one’s ears for aural reception, for that is the way that their mercy enters our heart. When one is thus blessed with the association of the Lord’s dear devotees, and as long as one is very careful not to commit any offences, one is sure to make rapid progress, and pure love of Godhead shall surely arise in the heart of the sadhaka, thus making him go mad in krsna-prema.